In this article, we'll be examining the art of creating company values which are powerful and relevant. Company Values that will unlock the potential and passion of your people, and will help to bring your vision statement and strategic plan to life.
This article is part of our mini series 'How To Write A Strategic Plan'. You can download our free 'How To Write A Strategic Plan' eBook which contains all of the articles from the series:
You can find the individual articles for 'How To Write A Strategic Plan' here:
- How To Write A Strategic Plan: The Cascade Model
- How to Write a Good Vision Statement
- How To Create Company Values (This Article)
- Creating Strategic Focus Areas
- How To Write Strategic Objectives
- How To Create Effective Projects
- How To Write KPIs
Know your People
Company Values are sometimes viewed as superfluous. In many cases, employees and customers alike dismiss them as mere marketing gimmicks. Our view is different - we see company values as a critical part of the strategic planning process - the reason being, that they go right to the heart of the most important ingredient of your strategy - your people.
Here's how we see company values fitting into the bigger strategic picture:
Internal vs External Company Values
This is the difference between creating company values intended for your own people, vs values aimed at your customers or other stakeholders. We're going to go out-on-a-limb here and say that in our own experiences, internal values are almost always more powerful for helping you to execute your plan, than external ones.
External values are always more prone to being gimmicky and marketing oriented. Not that there cannot be cross-over, or indeed a single set of values that apply to both - but for the purpose of this article, we're going to skew heavily towards internal company values and how best to devise them.
Avoiding fluffy, vacuous values
Perhaps the single biggest reason that company values are so often seen as gimmicky, is because they didn't emerge 'naturally'. In a perfect world, your values should really write themselves, as they should reflect the qualities and traits of the people you have already hired. Whenever we make decisions about whether to hire or work with someone, we unconsciously assess their values as part of that process.
Look at the people around you - those who the organization's success truly relies upon - and ask yourself what it was that made you decide to work with them. With any luck, you'll be able to identify shared and consistent values among those people. Shared values help to create synergy - and a team of people working synergistically together will always be stronger then a group of disconnected individuals - no matter how smart they may individually be. It's not a matter of dismissing individuality, but rather one of recognizing the power of a tight set of core beliefs that everyone shares, understands and embraces.
If you go through this exercise and still find it hard to tease out common themes (perhaps you're still in the early hiring phase, or maybe you want to make broader changes) - don't worry, there's another way of looking at things that should get you to the same result.
Think about your next hire:
- What type of behaviors and mindset are you looking for?
- What personality traits help the new person to work well with the rest of the team?
- What type of individual potential will be most useful for the greater good of the organization?
Creating Company Values: The Process in Action
To give a tangible example, we wanted to share with you our internal set of company values here at Cascade Strategy. In other articles in the series, we've used a hypothetical bike manufacturing company for our examples - but company values are simply too personal to be anything other than the genuine article. Here's how we went about creating company values that we still stand by today:
Value 1: Passion
We're a small but growing organization. We need our people to output exponentially compared to more established businesses. The two most important drivers of this are:
a) a passion for what you do and
b) the ability to genuinely enjoy your work and embrace it as a positive aspect of your life.
In the long term, the only thing that can consistently deliver both a) and b) are a process of continued challenge and learning. Why do we enjoy games (sports, video games, board games, you name it...)? - We enjoy them because they're challenging, and as we learn and improve, we apply that knowledge to move continuously forward - our reward is progress - and that progress gives a sense of pleasure. We applied exactly the same principle in devising our first Company Value.
How do we bring it to life?
We encourage and fully allow people to discover and work with the tools and technologies they want to learn. Empower them to implement the processes or techniques they wish to try, and research new ways of doing things. We allow them to change their minds and we never rebuke 'failure'.
Value 2: Curiosity
Curiosity is arguably a prerequisite for passion. We need people who have the mental agility to find interest in almost anything. Whether that's the structure of of technology stack, or the strategic goals of one of our clients.
How do we bring it to life?
We share everything. Our team meetings include literally everyone in the company (both in person and via video conferences). And we share Project and KPI updates from each team with the entire meeting. People are encouraged to ask questions about topics that have nothing to do with their day to day role.
Value 3: Integrity
Integrity encompasses so many different things. From basic honesty with others through to the ability to self reflect and be honest with yourself about when you've done a bad job - or a good one. Whilst we may disagree with one another on tactics - the one thing we should never question in each other is the integrity of our intentions and the integrity of our delivery of feedback and messaging.
How do we bring it to life?
We never criticize failure of outcomes. But we're quick to call-out failure of attitude, honesty or openness. We encourage our leaders to show humility and not afraid to be vulnerable. We reinforce positive behaviors through praise, promotions and financial reward. And do the reverse with anything that goes against the value of integrity.
A Summary of the key steps you need to take
- Analyze the behavioral traits of those around you and identify themes
- Ask yourself what traits you will be looking for in your next hires
- Understand your own strengths and weaknesses as an organization - and try to create company values which will play to your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses
- Bring these things together in a set of values that are short both in number and in length (we suggest between 3 and 5 values as a rule of thumb - each no more than just a few words)
- Test these values by asking whether or not they resonate with your people - they must!
- Revisit your Vision Statement - are your values consist with your strategic vision? Will they take you closer to making it a reality?
- Don't stop there - write down on a piece of paper why each company value is important and tangibly what you will do to live it as an organization
To conclude, creating company values should be easy: it should come out naturally. If you're finding the process hard, it probably means you need to spend a bit more time getting to you know your people, or even yourself! You can download the series that this article belongs to 'How To Write A Strategic Plan' as a free eBook here.
As always, let us know what you think about our process - do you agree with our key points around creating company values? What values have been most powerful and memorable from organizations you've worked with previously?